The Smart Traveler's Guide to The Field Museum
Take a step back for a moment and think about just how different things are today compared to thousands or even millions of years ago. Back then, giant dinosaurs ruled the planet, but the largest species today are mammals. Or imagine how computers and smartphones, modern miracles of technology, would have seemed alien among cavemen. Hieroglyphics and mummies may have been a ritualistic part of the burial process in Ancient Egypt, but these practices aren’t found anywhere in today's modern world—except in a museum. At the Field Museum of Chicago, you can see it all: modern technology enhancing what we know about our past and guiding us in our journey toward progress.
A History of History
The Field Museum isn’t just a place to explore history, it’s also a part of history. The idea for developing a world-class museum came out of the of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Soon a number of exhibits were procured, but making the budding museum a permanent reality seemed out of reach.
It was then that Edward E. Ayer, who later went on to become the first President of the Field Museum, made a call to Mr. Marshall Field, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who owned a chain of department stores throughout the city. Mr. Field was a known advocate for plans to increase cultural and educational facilities in Chicago. Mr. Field donated a generous $1 million, thus ensuring the museum's permanence in the community. Soon, other contributors followed suit, and even larger exhibits and collections were acquired. Now, over a century later, the Field Museum continues to inspire our natural curiosity and keep history alive through its many immersive and educational exhibits.
Popular Field Museum Exhibits
SUE the T. Rex
You probably already know about SUE, because everyone knows about SUE, because SUE is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex in the entire world (and the most iconic exhibit in the Field Museum). From the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, SUE measures 40.5 feet long. The original 600-pound skull sits in a display on the Museum’s balcony, beneath a mural of what SUE might have looked like before she was a fossil. At the exhibit, you can learn all sorts of interesting information about the science of SUE. For example, how multiple ribs were in various stages of healing from being broken, and how a CT scan of her skull has provided scientists with previously unknown information about her prehistoric world.
*Note: SUE is going off display in February 2018 for updates and will then be relocated to a new exhibit. The T. rex will return in the spring of 2019. A titanosaur, the biggest dinosaur ever discovered, will take SUE’s place in Stanley Field Hall.
Inside Ancient Egypt
Explore an ancient Egyptian tomb in Inside Ancient Egypt. The recreated mastaba is three stories tall and includes two 5,000-year-old authentic rooms of the tomb of pharaoh’s son, Unis-Ankh. Hieroglyphs cover the mastaba from wall to wall and ceiling to floor, and provide an in-depth look at the Egyptian’s intricate rituals for preparing a body for the afterlife. Learn about the 70-day mummification process in realistic dioramas of ancient Egyptian workshops and see a collection of mummies and sarcophagi. Find out why Egyptians held animals (especially cats) in such high esteem, explore a replicated Egyptian marketplace, and see centuries-old artifacts to gain an understanding of the everyday life of an ancient Egyptian.
From single-celled organisms to the collision of continents, Evolving Planet takes you on a journey through time. Beginning 4.5 billion years ago, you'll see Earth as it was when life began. A video shows a hostile, volcanic planet and the frequent meteorites that scarred the Earth’s surface millions of years ago. See the water world and its ancient, yet familiar, creatures, like jellyfish, mollusks, and sponges. Learn about the first mass extinction through trilobite eyes. Then, see the planet’s first plants, and the evolution from fin to feet in a life-sized diorama of ancient Illinois. Follow the dinosaurs, and then visit the hominid gallery where a 13,000-year-old skeleton of the Magdalenian Girl provides an up-close look the first modern humans.
The Ancient Americas
The Ancient Americas exhibit explores 13,000 years’ worth of history in the western hemisphere, where diverse societies thrived before European colonization. More than 2,200 artifacts reveal the lives of those who walked this land before us. The sprawling 19,000 square-foot space tells the story of how differing groups adapted to changes over time, including the introduction of agriculture.
In 1898, two lions that lived near the Tsavo River were shot and killed after reportedly killing and eating 135 people at a railroad camp over the course of nine months. To this day, scientists continue to study the lions and the strange behavior that transformed these two lions into man-eaters. See the infamous lions for yourself in the Museum’s Rice Gallery, and learn more about their legendary story and how current research has changed the reported death toll.
Halls of Gems and Jades
Looking for something shiny? From rough stone to dazzling jewelry, the Grainger Hall of Gems displays modern and antique gold objects and rare jewels from around the world, including a 3,400-year-old Egyptian necklace and an extremely rare tanzanite stone. Described as "the fairest of stones," Jade represents power and prosperity, and for more than 8,000 years, has held a special place in Chinese culture. More than 450 jade objects guide visitors through the history of China, from the use of jade in neolithic burial rituals to jade work in the 20th century.
Hall of Birds
The Hall of Birds has always had an extensive and outstanding display of birds, but in 2012, the Hall was reopened with updated displays and media integration to provide a more immersive experience than was previously possible. Learn all the fascinating details about the bird species and their relationships with each other at the Ronald and Christina Gidwitz Hall of Birds.
Watch Science Happen
Fans of Indiana Jones can watch scientific research in real life in the McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab. This lab lets you watch fossil preparators carefully chisel and sometimes sandblast their way through rocks to extract fossils that have been hidden for millions of years. Another way to see real science happening is in the DNA Discovery Center, which lets you watch scientists research the DNA of everything from fungi to birds. You’ll also get a chance to speak with scientists about their work and watch videos about DNA research and its importance in understanding the similarities and differences between myriad forms of life.
It’s easy to spend days in the museum and still not see everything because there are many more fascinating exhibits. There’s a replica of an 1800s-era Pawnee Nation’s Earth Lodge, the Africa exhibit that takes visitors through the cultures of the continent, and the Underground Adventure (a ticketed exhibit) that shrinks you to 1/1000th of your normal size. Every exhibit showcases the museum’s dedication to education and inspiring its guests.
Field Museum Ticket Prices & Hours
There are a couple of ways to visit The Field Museum for free. Illinois residents can participate in multiple Free Admission Days throughout the year. Check the website to see the next free days. Free Admission Day gets you Basic Admission, or take full advantage and purchase discounted upgraded admission. All tickets must be purchased on site and with proof of residency. It’s recommended that you arrive early on Free Admission Days, as it gets crowded. Another way to get in for free is to bring your local science museum membership card - The Field Museum participates in a reciprocal admission system with 200+ other science and technology museums around the country!
Tips and Tricks for a Better Visit
- While The Field Museum has two dining options, to save some money you can bring your own lunch; The Field Museum has an eating area on the ground floor (The Siragusa Center).
- If you plan on seeing a 3D movie, it’s a good idea to head to the theater 30 minutes before your selected time. As with most attractions, morning is the best time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds, especially on the weekends.
- The Ancient Egypt exhibit is a good first place to stop, as the tomb becomes harder to explore with a bigger crowd.
- Plan to spend at least 4-5 hours at the museum if you want to make the most of your visit (though it’s easy to spend the whole day!).
Sensory Saturdays & Accessibility
The Field Museum offers a sensory-friendly app called "Field App for All" to help children on the spectrum get the most out of their visit by being able to preview exhibits, customize a schedule and use a sensory-friendly map.
Also available are Sensory Saturdays from 9-10 am on select Saturdays. It is free with advance registration, but space is limited to 40 guests so that families can enjoy a crowd-free space. To register for a Sensory Saturday event, please email email@example.com or visit the Official Sensory Saturday webpage.
Field Museum Parking
Parking at the Museum Campus is relatively easy, but rates and hours are subject to change. Visit soldierfieldparking.com before your visit to the museum for current rates. Parking is available at the Soldier Field North Garage and the East Museum Lot. Additional parking can be found near the Adler Planetarium and in the Waldron Garage on the south side of Slider Field. With SpotHero, you can plan ahead and find/reserve a parking spot near the Museum campus. If you’ve never used the app before, you can get $5 off parking with the promo code FIELD5.
To get the most out of your stay in Chicago, we recommend finding lodging near Chicago's top attractions like the Field Museum. Use this map to find the right lodging for you: